There’s a certain sense of world and culture that permeates Moon Hunters, the newest project from young independent studio Kitfox Games. The art style is colorful and guided by a storybook aesthetic, the music is deep and creative, and the use of procedural generation keeps the various areas fresh and lively. Each playthrough is a new journey into a promising world, and is only enhanced with the addition of couch co-op play. Though it is not quite a perfect game, suffering from some shallow elements and occasional technical issues, Moon Hunters is a promising RPG that deserves a deeper look.
Moon Hunters is billed as “a small 1 to 4 player co-operative personality test RPG,” though you shouldn’t let this confuse you. Though this marketing is a bit odd, the game is more of a standard RPG with some rogue-like elements and a focus on storytelling. You (and up to 3 additional friends) discover that the moon has disappeared and are tasked with bringing the “moon goddess” back. It doesn’t take long to learn that The Sun Cult has taken responsibility for the moon’s absence and their king intends on killing you at the end of 5 days. It’s a very cheery tale.
In many ways, Moon Hunters feels like a return to classic RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda or even Secret of Mana. The game leans into its use of top-down map exploring, 2D character images, and text dialogue. As such, there’s a nice level of nostalgia that permeates the experience. That’s hardly to suggest that Moon Hunters has nothing new to bring to the table — on the contrary, the project is unique in the sense of choice and permanence that is available to the player.
Throughout the game, you’ll find yourself viewing storybook cutscenes — images and narration describing the state of the world and the consequences of actions, whether yours or that of others. After the opening cutscene, you’ll select your character based on class and customize them with a base color and a name. It’s a bit disappointing that characters cannot be customized further, given the nature of the game, but this is a small gripe in the grand scheme of things. Other aspects of your character, such as their personality and skills, are developed through gameplay.
This is, arguably, where Moon Hunters succeeds the most. As you wander through random, procedurally-generated levels, you’ll make choices based on events that affect your various skills and inevitably have an impact on the endgame. If you help people in need, your faith may increase. If you go hunting at night, you’ll find your strength and endurance increase. The more courageous or prideful you are, the more events are unlocked to you. It’s an exercise in decision-making: who will you be, and how will that help you succeed?
Characters can also upgrade attacks and talents. By collecting money, you can purchase new attacks and upgrades for your character from merchants. Though characters generally begin with a modest attack set, upgrades mean that your character can be quite a force by the third or fourth day, which is satisfying. There are also a couple of additional class types to unlock, and each class type has different attacks. The quick swordsman with two attacks is drastically different from the singing support character with almost a dozen. Both are viable options. It’s more of a matter of how you structure your team.
And you’ll want a team. Moon Hunters is a fun single-player experience, but it shines as a couch co-op project. Moving through levels as a team of four powerful warriors is sheer fun, though it is a bit of a time commitment to really do the game justice. Strategies begin to form, discussions of how to approach things grow deep and heated, and the strongest opponents become manageable, giving way to greater rewards.
Each “round” of the game only lasts five days. You (and your team) will explore for five days, searching for the moon and growing stronger. At the end of the five day cycle, you’ll face The Sun Cult. Whether you win, lose, or something else occurs (and there are a large number of possible endings), the game will end. You and anyone on your team will be remembered as constellations in the stars, and you’ll be given a title and story to read based on the choices you made. Then, you’ll start all over again with a new character. You’ll take with you some knowledge you gained and some insight into choices. Your prior game will permeate your new cycle (praying to a statue of my first character was a fun touch). It gets a bit easier every time.
Moon Hunters is truly a fun experience, combining some classic RPG elements with decision-driven gameplay and a Majora’s Mask concept. But not everything works perfectly. Some characters and story elements fall flat and fail to offer the depth of its contemporaries. Once you reach an ending, it’s possible that you’ll feel little draw to start again. Also, losing your fantastic character after just five days is a little heartbreaking. In the previously mentioned Majora’s Mask, important items and power-ups remained between time resets, and that might be a fun option here. On a more technical level, framerate issues plague the PS4 version constantly. Single-player suffers little, but every additional player seems to be a major burden on the game, and four players fighting a screen of enemies is nearly impossible. For a 2D, top-down project, this is a difficult issue to overlook. It’s my understanding that many technical issues have been fixed in the jump from PC to PS4, which is excellent, but framerate problems are something to consider as a consumer.
The new RPG from Kitfox Games is a satisfying indie addition to the PS4’s catalogue. Moon Hunters offers a fun concept and some truly outstanding couch co-op play in a culturally rich and exciting world that is always fresh and new. The art and music are beautiful, and gameplay is fun and engaging. The game is held back by some shallow story elements, some conceptual flaws, repetition, and framerate issues, however. For some casual gamers, these elements may be enough to make Moon Hunters a no-go. That being said, for those searching for a new indie RPG experience, particularly one to share with friends, Moon Hunters will fit in your PS4’s library nicely.
A PS4 review copy of Moon Hunters was provided by Kitfox Games for the purpose of this review
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